A Reservoir of Information for Urban Farmers: A General Analysis of Upstart University

Intro: Upstart University Powered by Plenty

Of all the searching for a reservoir of information that is relevant to large-scale vertical hydroponic and aquaponic farms, there is only one source that floats on top. Upstart University is an online college that is semi-specific of ZipGrow and Deep Water Culture systems that are primarily set up to empower those in growing food systems in all areas. The ZipFarm is a vertical water working system that Dr. Nate Storey with Bright AgroTech designed to use less space and less energy compared to soil working farms. Dr. Nate provides a large amount of the information for this online University which was founded by Bright Agrotech in 2014 and bought by Plenty in 2017. Upstart continues to be fueled by their innovative and diverse team to create an efficient platform to better the food system.

After creating and paying for an account, gained access provides a well of classes that derive from trial and error experiences and experiments through Bright’s hydro-farm in Wyoming and aqua-farms around the U.S. There is a vast amount of knowledge available to guide students to design and build their best ideas for sustainable farming in agriculturally inconvenient lands. These experts work with all aspects of farming with a goal similar to the goals of extension farms and 4-H clubs: to bring new and current knowledge to farmers to create an always advancing food system that is beneficial to the community. “Eliminating the knowledge gap” as they say.

What can be learned from Upstart?

Here is the Deal: Take it with a Grain of Sand

While that is an admirable goal, there is a lack of general applicability. Upstart U. has education on 40 topics ranging from ‘Goals and Action Planning for Your Upstart Farm‘ to ‘Farm Insurance: Finding the Right Policy.’ Some of their courses are specific to the systems they created with Bright, and others can be made general for those who do not have these operations. With some experience utilizing Upstart evidence has proven that their information is not entirely accurate.

There is an “Upstart Farm” in Anchorage that utilizes the courses but has to adapt the information to fit their findings better. For example, Dr. Nate’s associate Amy Storey states, in ‘Crops and Growing Science: 7: Lettuce and Arugula‘ that lettuce in their ZipGrow reaches maturity at six weeks, but that is not entirely true for Salanova Lettuces, which matures at seven weeks from the Anchorage farm’s experience. This example is a small deviation from the teachings that does no damage.

Anchorage’s youth-ran ‘Upstart Farm’

Another inconsistency can be found in ‘Insect Pest Management: 2: Common Pests and Controls‘ Mrs. Storey explains that Mycotrol, a biological insecticide, can be used against aphids but does not bring up that it helps when dealing with thrips and whiteflies as well. Evergreen Growers Supply lists Mycotrol as a method to combat all three. Again, this is a harmless deviation, that overall does not diminish Upstart University’s usefulness.

The Break Down: Course Selection

The University supplies detailed information on ‘Farming and Business‘ aspects including information on markets, social media, production, insurance and more. These selections go in-depth on topics designed to help new farmers think of and construct their very own farm.

Pieces of the previously stated category can be related to any farm although, their category of ‘Growing and System Science’ is more specific to water and water culture operations. However, some of the classes in this section like ‘2000: Seeds and Seeding‘, ‘2010: Insect Pest Management‘, and ‘2020: Plant Pathology for Upstart Farmers‘ have information for soil working farms as well.

The final section goes into ‘Materials and Equipment‘ and is also specific to the systems linked in the first paragraph, but would provide useful info for others developing new systems. ‘Materials and Equipment‘ has information on exactly that but with ideas about interesting things such as food trucks and hydro-walls in restaurants.

Like any university, Upstart U. offers to help solidify lessons; students have the option to take quizzes, tests, and complete homework assignments. After completing a selected course, users can receive certificates of completion which builds a sense of accomplishment and belonging to their mission.

Conclusion: A Handy Tool

Upstart is a mission-driven university. Empowerment through education is their goal for small farmers who are passionate about the communities they live in. The lessons are provided to farmers in hopes to bring better food to populations. Specialist in all areas of functioning businesses and agriculture have come together to create a useful tool for urban farming.

In general, this source is a useful data reference that can be used by aquaponic, hydroponic, and in some cases even geoponic farmers, and this is clear when looking over their class selections. As previously stated, Upstart’s information comes from their experiences, research, and experiments so, students can anticipate that the university’s data is specific to them, but others may find value in what they have learned. It is also relevant because the Upstart/Bright team is composed of experts who have worked together to make individual classes for the users and people who are in their community.

“Online Farm Training Courses.’ Upstart University, Plenty, 2017, university.upstartfarmers.com/.

“Bright Agrotech YouTube Channel.” Bright Agrotech, Plenty, 2018,  https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCdNLE33fcMMW3uYINssFKBQ

“Release Rates.’ Evergreen Growers Supply

Alaska Seeds of Change experience and image from their Face Book page.    

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